Young pastors—and older ones—often find themselves in hospitals, or so I’m told. (I’m not a pastor; I don’t even play one on TV.) But 55 years ago one young and busy pastor found himself on the “consumer” side of a hospital: he was in a sickbed, and the prospects didn’t look good.
This pastor was Captain Stanley E. Ditmer of the Salvation Army. He was in the early years of what would be a 51-year career of serving other people, meeting human needs, and preaching the gospel. In 1956, however, that long period of service was far off. He wasn’t well; as I recall the story, his illness was rather severe, and there were concerns for his life. The diagnosis and the prognosis were not good news for a young man with a wife and children.
It’s at those times—and, it seems, we all encounter these—that our faith is put to the test. Beyond the obvious question of “why,” the other question of “how” pops up: How do we survive the crisis, how do we move forward, how do we just continue when there’s no strength left?
The answer—for young Captain Ditmer, for me, and, I hope, for you, too—is faith. But not a nebulous kind of belief that hopes for “pie in the sky, by and by, when we die.” Rather, we need the kind of faith that grabs hold of God’s promises—the ones right there in your Bible—and doesn’t let go.
Ellen G. White knew this. And, like the young Stanley Ditmer, she had plenty of her own challenges to face. The burdens of helping to found and lead a movement that brought a distinct message to hungry hearts, a challenge to much of the Christian world, and ultimately hope to millions around the globe were enormous. Today’s technology was decades away from appearing. Finances were slim. Health issues popped up. Tragedy, in her family and in the lives of close friends, dogged her steps.
As cited in the devotional In Heavenly Places, Ellen White’s words are confrontational yet encouraging: “If I should look at the dark clouds—the troubles and perplexities that come to me in my work—I should have time to do nothing else. But I know that there is light and glory beyond the clouds. By faith I reach through the darkness to the glory. . . . The more you talk faith, the more faith you will have. The more you dwell upon discouragement, talking to others about your trials and enlarging upon them, to enlist the sympathy which you crave, the more discouragements and trials you will have. Why mourn over that which you cannot avoid?” (p. 247).
That spirit of reaching “through the darkness to the glory,” of talking faith, shaped this movement’s course. It has encouraged untold millions. And it encourages me.
As did that young Captain Ditmer, whom I knew later in his life. After recovering from his serious, life-threatening illness, he wrote a song that the Salvation Army sings to this day. Read the first verse:
“I shall not fear though darkened clouds may gather round me;
The God I serve is one who cares and understands.
Although the storms I face would threaten to confound me,
Of this I am assured: I’m in His hands.”
And please note the chorus:
“I’m in His hands, I’m in His hands;
Whate’er the future holds I’m in His hands,
The days I cannot see, have all been planned for me;
His way is best, you see;
I’m in His hands.”
Those words mean a lot, in good times and in bad times. I often close e-mails with “In His Hands,” because placing one’s self in the hands of a loving God is, truly, the best place to be!
Mark A. Kellner serves as news editor for Adventist Review and Adventist World magazines. This article was published February 17, 2011.